Descriptive interpretation

There are certain mystical passages in the Bahá’í Writings that can be read quite differently if one shifts from a prescriptive, self-oriented interpretation, to a descriptive, Revelation-oriented one.

One example of this is detachment, about which I wrote in another post; another, I think, is the following Hidden Word:

O Son of Earth! Know, verily, the heart wherein the least remnant of envy yet lingers, shall never attain My everlasting dominion, nor inhale the sweet savors of holiness breathing from My kingdom of sanctity.

For many years I’d read this Hidden Word in what seems like the obvious way: until my heart is purified from all envy, I cannot attain God’s everlasting dominion. Since this is quite difficult to achieve, it makes that kingdom feel very far away, and nearly impossible to reach.

But what if it’s not prescribing a condition I must achieve, but is describing the nature of that kingdom, by depicting the character of one who has recognized it?

If the Revelation of God’s Manifestation is the most valuable thing in existence, how can one who has the most valuable thing envy anything at all? Therefore, even “the least remnant of envy” becomes proof that one has not truly recognized it – a recognition necessary to perceive the gift it contains – rather than indicting the unworthiness of one who still seeks it.

Or in the example on detachment, Bahá’u’lláh writes:

Say: He is not to be numbered with the people of Bahá who followeth his mundane desires, or fixeth his heart on things of the earth. He is My true follower who, if he come to a valley of pure gold, will pass straight through it aloof as a cloud, and will neither turn back, nor pause. Such a man is, assuredly, of Me.

Prescriptively interpreted as making a statement about the individual, it seems to be saying we must achieve a nearly impossible standard to become one of the people of Bahá; but descriptively intepreted as a statement clarifying the nature of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, it could be read as saying: So great is His Cause that any man who truly recognizes it will have no room in his heart for anything the world might contain; if even the least shred of desire should remain, then he has not recognized it.